Two scraggly graduate students run into each other on the UCSD campus in late September...
Garrett: "So, Dave, you turn in your dissertation yet?"
Kneeboarder Dave: "Almost there, I'm running around now to get the last signatures and will
turn it in to the library tomorrow."
G: "Cool. Then what, I heard something about a surf trip?"
D: "Yeah, in three days I leave for the South Pacific for six weeks."
G: "Wow, I've always wanted to do that but the airfare is a killer."
D: "Well this guy, Ryan, in the travel office found roundtrip for $500, boards included,
why don't you check it out?"
G: "500!?!" I was starting to shake a little bit as the implications of what I was
thinking pervaded my system... "Need a travel partner?"
D: "Uhh, yeah, I'm going to be goin' nuts down there by myself until my girlfriend shows
up. I'm planning on reading War and Peace... "
G: "OK. Let me think about it for a day and I'll call you."
Two weeks later I'm trying to sleep bolt upright between two pairs of honey-mooners on a
packed red-eye out of LAX. I manage to achieve a sleepy haze with images of perfect rights
(I always dream of rights) peeling over colorful reefs.
On arrival I'm trying to remember exactly what Dave looks like as I stumble out of the
gate. "Gee, I sure hope he shows..." I finally sneak up behind him and some local guy
as they stare at the gate, a good sign. "Yo, good morning!" I shook hands with Richard
then Dave told me the setup: "I spent the first week in an expensive flee-bag hotel in
town then this local family invited me to stay in their guesthouse..." What could I say?
These were the best words I could have hoped for. I was even in a good mood when the
airline told me they had lost my boards and they might show up in three days.
We hopped in the dinky rental car and cruised out to the other end of the island. The
waves out on the passes looked decent but not all-time. I met "The Caterpillar"
(translated, after the earth moving equipment) who Dave informed me directed traffic and
charged at the local breaks, and the rest of the family. A total chaos of Aunts, Uncles,
kids, distant cousins (Richard), dogs, and chickens. Dave was getting understandably
antsy to surf before the wind came up so we jammed down the road to "Chopu". (name sounds
like this but is spelled differently, it being a Polynesian axiom that words must contain
twice as many vowels as consonants.)
Dave kindly offered up a kneeboard and I decided I'd try and surf it, but probably just
float around and watch. A fifteen minute paddle out later I'm trying to drop in backside
on head-high grinding barrels. Dave is telling me how much the swell has dropped while
pulling in deeper and deeper. The size is just fine for me, thanks, since I feel like I'm
riding a cafeteria tray. I get my first of what will be many reef bounces. It's coral
down there with dry reef on the inside. Lots of scattered urchins with nasty six inch
spines too, I keep hoping I don't inadvertently pet one. Turns out I loose just a little
blood to the reef about every day, well worth it. After the session we grind on $.40
baguettes, "Wow, I could get used to these!" (this was before I ate fifty feet of them...),
and PBJ. I string up my hammock and Dave whips out "War and Peace".
The next day the swell picked up a bit and I broke down and wore fins and kneeloed. It
worked a lot better but felt really funny, very stable and fast but I missed my board.
Some Aussies in a cat showed up and we were bummed, but they didn't paddle out, burnt out
I guess. We felt like protective locals because we had had the spot to ourselves for
three days. Heaven forbid we should have to share this perfect wave with other surfers!
We joked about ways to sink a boat. We paddled quietly past the cat the next morning and
were heading in when the Aussies finally paddled out.
My boards showed up (one with a nice new ding) and one was promptly stolen. Dave had
started to feel sick and we had driven around to the north side to check out the spots.
At one break we saw a pregnant local woman getting swept out to sea in an outrigger by
very strong offshore winds. Two guys, one her cousin I think, paddled a canoe out to
rescue her. They passed her onto the bigger canoe, but then it sank in the heavy seas and
they held on to the small one. I was running around trying to find a motor boat, call the
police, and keep track of their position with binoculars as another three guys in a bigger
canoe tried their luck. They got everyone on board before the small boat foundered. It
looked like a hell paddle back to the beach but they made it after a couple of hours.
Meanwhile someone cracked the lock on my surfboard cable and stole my 6'8". Bummer, just
my trusty 7'6" left now. The impression I got was that the people are friendly as can be,
all smiles, handshakes, and jokes, but will rob you blind if you give 'em a chance. Dave
lost some $ out of the car a few days later.
We returned to Chopu where the swell was starting to pick up. Dave was one sick puppy but
was getting two sessions a day in anyway. We settled into what would be our daily routine
for the rest of the trip:
4am- About twelve local roosters greet the day.
4:30am- The symphony. Dave's assortment of clocks and watches all go off at once. Dave
stretches (crackle, pop) and Garrett tries to sleep through the rooster chorus.
5:30am- Dawn. And we're surfing Chopu. Just us and these reeling barrels.
7:00am- This is when the wind usually went dead then turned. Perfect glass. It's wild
because you really can't see the water, it just looks like you're flying above the coral...
Then you're in a glass room just hoping it doesn't shatter.
10am- Baguettes + pick one (PBJ, cheese, beans, corn, tomato, cucumber...)
10:30am- Swing in da hammock, sleep, read. (Dave hit page 1000)
3pm- More Surf.
6:30pm- Fireworks. Nothing like a tropical sunset.
6:45pm- Shower off. Apply copious quantities of Neosporin.
7pm- More Baguettes. Or sometimes Marie would cook for the family. D: "This meat is good,
what do you think it is?" G: "Well, I can think of a lot of things its not. Good though,
8pm- Light the mosquito coil. Everyone uses these things, but people also have these deep
phlegmy coughs that I can't help but attribute to the poison smoke. I guess it beats the
nasty mossies though. Dave also slept in full pants/sweatshirt and I brought some netting.
There were other spots too. The spot in front of the family's house is a world class
sweeping left-hander about a half-mile out. I helped repair the canoe and paddled out to
surf it with Richard on a good day. I knew Chopu would be off the scale and I didn't feel
right about it. Dave went to Chopu with a surf nomad named Cameron and said it was
ridiculously heavy. Richard and I got some good rides. About six guys out. We sank the
canoe after the session. I had to tow it around to the back of the reef so we could lift
it and empty the water out.
One afternoon three women surfers and their entourage showed up at Chopu with Aaron Chang
and Moana David. We didn't stick around to see 'em go out though. When we left they were
putting on bikinis and makeup! I'll probably see it in the mags in a month.
The surf nomad, Cameron, turned out to be pretty cool. At first we thought he was just
after a car ride, which he was, but he earned it with his tall tales of pearl diving,
ukulele playing, and hideous wipeouts. It also turned out that the three of us had all
been recently dissed by our females so we were all drowning our broken hearts by taking
off late and pulling in, damn the consequences. The barrel riding misogynists of the
South Pacific are we... We marveled that these waves were usually empty, and resolved to
return. Where was the rest of the world? Why were there hundreds of guys floating in
cold choppy slop in San Diego?
On my last day I was resigned to have had my best waves when a new swell hit. "The
Caterpiller" paddled out at Chopu with some trepidatious friends and shared some waves
with Dave, Cameron, and me. He charged some heavy drops. I had an advantage on my 7'6"
and was almost happy to have lost my 6'8" as the lines stacked up and the rides kept
getting heavier. Typical ride: Paddle like hell, vertical drop, crank the bottom turn,
line it up, VVVVVVRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOSH! Yee-ha! One of my early rides I remember
the best. I was backside and thought "It sure is getting hollow, am I in?" I raised my
head and looked up above me and sure enough, there was the lip, up there, WAY, WAY up
there. "Yup, I'm in." Meanwhile, Dave had the place wired, back-door-ing ridiculous
monsters and racing the foam ball to the exit. Right after he said "This feels really
good!" he dropped too late and snapped his leash. He had to go in over the reef, way
sketchy. Just to top it off he saw a shark as he was paddling for his board. Didn't see
him again for a couple of hours. It was a great session. It made me know that I'd be
able to surf good Pipeline if I ever got it with no one out - yeah right. It was a great
end to a great trip.
Flying back into LA it looked like all of Southern California was on fire and draped in
soot, which it was. I've been moping around for days, knowing what I'm missing. I
paddled out and it felt like a joke, though it was nice to go right for a change.
Dave and I planned to return in the spring. Marie said she's planning on renting out her
house regularly to surfers soon. She said she'd write me when I could start telling
people about it. If you email me I'll send the information your way when it's available,
including location, prices, advice, etc. She wants me to screen people too, so include a
I returned to my x-fiance packing up her stuff. "You're just too selfish. I want someone
who cares more about me than anything. All you care about is surfing. And you know what,
you're not even that good!" After that line all I could do was smile and think of all
those perfect barrel rides....... "Yup."